Practicing Her Activism


Acquisition and protection of land

Mary's determination to protect natural wildlife areas led her to acquire land at Two Rivers in Albert County and subsequently donate it to the Nature Conservancy of Canada. As well, the family cottage and surrounding property became of importance in protecting the Mary's Point section of Shepody National Wildlife Area.

Mary's Point Shorebird Reserve

An undisputed highlight of Mary's tireless efforts for conservation is the Mary's Point bird sanctuary in Harvey between Fundy National Park and Riverside Albert. When Mary and her family spent days at their cottage at Mary's Point, they learned of its natural riches firsthand, and research confirmed that the Point was of major importance as a stop-over for hundreds of thousands of migrating birds.

Great numbers of shorebirds that make the arduous 4000 km migration from the Arctic to South America stop to feed before continuing their odyssey. It is estimated that about 75% of the total population of Semipalmated Sandpipers touches down in huge sweeping flocks in the upper Bay of Fundy, including Mary's Point. Doubling their weight on the plentiful mud shrimp is crucial to their successful migration. Continuous observation by Mary and David Christie revealed much about the movements of the birds and their feeding habits. How to ensure that this spectacular natural activity was safeguarded from various threats preoccupied Mary, and she lobbied tirelessly for protection of the entire area of the Point.

In 1978, the Canadian Wildlife Service purchased the point and adjacent marshland, designating them as part of the Shepody National Wildlife Area.

But Mary understood that on-the-ground protection would require on-site education and supervision of visitors, who might disturb the birds and the seashore environment. The protection and interpretation needed to be organized, and soon trails were constructed, students employed, and a building erected. All this work was done by Mary through the New Brunswick Federation of Naturalists, of which she was president at the time. After twenty successful years, operation of the interpretive program was assumed by the Canadian Wildlife Service.

Mary's Point gained international status in 1982, when it was designated, with its surroundings on Shepody Bay, as a Ramsar Site (a wetland of international significance); and in 1987, when it became a Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve. This now well-known reserve receives about 15,000 visitors annually.

Gray Tree Frogs

I feel responsible to take care of things. I cannot pass by and say, Let someone else do that!

(Carr, 2010, p. 117) Mary was also partly responsible for conservation of an area where the rare-to-New Brunswick Gray Tree Frog had been found. During the 1980s, she had championed this isolated population, explaining the situation to government and asking for protection of the tiny frogs. Finally, the elements came together in 1995 that enabled the Nature Trust of New Brunswick to set up the 8-hectare Hyla Park Nature Reserve, the first designated amphibian park in Canada, within the City of Fredericton boundaries.

Built heritage

Albert County Heritage Trust, which Mary started in 1975, is a local organization which was able to save a number of heritage sites from destruction. The first of this organization's projects was to save the Sawmill Creek covered bridge from demolition when a new bridge was being built nearby; It has become a very attractive spot for people to stop for photos. Then, in 1985, significant repairs and improvements were made to the Harvey Community Hall to bring it into active use. That same year, the local Bank of Nova Scotia, originally a branch of the Bank of New Brunswick, was rescued from demolition at the very last moment when a senior bank official phoned Mary just before the deadline:

He asked me, "Is your organization incorporated?" I replied that it was. "In this case, we can give you the building." I practically fell on the floor. "But you have to move it," he said — a three-story building! But I did succeed, I moved the building and made it into the Old Bank Museum and a Visitor Information Centre.

Another building relocation and restoration project followed soon after the bank project. The Anderson Hollow Lighthouse, built in 1903 in Waterside, had badly deteriorated. Seeing the dereliction, Mary got to work raising funds to move it to Riverside-Albert and get it repaired. Eventually, the lighthouse was moved again to Harvey, its final resting place within the newly established Shipyard Heritage Park, thus earning the moniker "the travelling lighthouse."

The Shipyard Heritage Park began in 1997 but it took nine years and many approaches to the authorities to see it to completion. Mary at first was able to restore only the historic Harvey wharf after rescuing it from demolition, after winning a large government grant. However, she wanted to create a park that would commemorate the proud history of Harvey's sailing and ship building industry. Winning the support and enthusiasm of local citizens was essential. She commissioned research, visited similar sites already in operation, and raised substantial funds. Still, progress was not as speedy as she had hoped, and in the meantime she had to cope with illness and surgery.

The NB government eventually contributed $15,000 to the Shipyard Heritage Park, with Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA) informing Mary in March 2005 that they would award the $102,000 needed to finish the site. The Lieutenant-Governor of New Brunswick formally opened the site in August 2006.

Other projects included a campaign to have a new covered bridge built (rather than the concrete structure proposed) to replace the bridge that was accidentally destroyed at Point Wolfe in Fundy National Park. In addition to all those projects, Mary also rescued a 150-year-old house that had been vacant for 40 years to be her own home at Mary's Point.

A recent project involved Mary's acquisition of a historic house in Alma scheduled for bulldozing. Local municipal authorities were not receptive to her plans, but she successfully negotiated to have Captain Molly Kool's childhood home relocated to Fundy National Park. Getting a substantial grant from ACOA, the now completed building will be opened as the Molly Kool Centre in the near future. Captain Molly Kool was the first female sea captain in North America and only the second in the world.

Mary Majka still has other projects in mind, but time is getting short for her, for Mary is 88 years old.

I often had to propose something that had not been done before. I very rarely faced rejection and never had to resort to confrontations. Mostly through patience, humour, and a growing reputation for doing good work, I was remarkably successful.